Answering the jury call
I had an unexpectedly interesting day on June 24. It was one of those bright sunny days that Colorado is known for, one that almost demands that you get out doors and enjoy the reason that caused a lot of us to moved here. Certainly not a day to spend six hours in a dark windowless room in Eagle. But that’s exactly what I did.For the first time in my life, I was actually required to show up for jury duty. I guess required is the operative word here and have no fear, I will come back to it. But first, some other observations.We were scheduled to report at 8:45. I arrived at 8:40 to a room of citizens quietly reading their newspapers. For me, the process didn’t start off well, as the judge finally started the proceeding at 9:06. OK, I know stuff comes up at the last minute but after all of these years, I’d think planning for such things would be built into the system. But don’t forget, I am compulsively on time and can almost never find a reason for being late.After that glitch, the judge started with a civics lesson. He outlined the day not only as to what the format would be but what his philosophy was on why we were there. While the setting was serious with no one speaking above a whisper, the judge was humorous and entertaining, as well as informative.He covered all of the usual stuff that you would know if you ever watched “LA Law.” Stuff like the defendant is presumed innocent. He explained that the jury decides the facts, and the judge decides the law. And ultimately, the jury applies those laws to the facts in determining if the charges have proved guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.He went on to emphasize that the defense didn’t have to do anything. The entire burden lies on the prosecution.We then moved to jury selection. Of the 30 citizens who appeared for jury duty, 12 were randomly selected by the computer and the process of elimination began. The judge started with his list of questions. His light-hearted approach eased some of the tension. Among his questions were educational background, family history, work experience, etc. He also inquired into reading habits. When one prospective juror said that he enjoyed reading about liberal Catholicism, the judge responded that it must be a very short book.At that point, two pregnant women were excused, two more chosen from the pool, questioned and the judge passed them all for cause. The two attorneys then had their go. The judge had already explained that he and the two lawyers would each be looking for different things in their selections, and that six would be eliminated. I must say, I kept a little tally and chose five of the six exactly as the attorneys did. Maybe I missed my calling. I also suspect that the jury pool here in Eagle County is significantly different than in most places. There was one high school drop-out, while nine the 12 had college degrees.So all of the groundwork was laid for the trial to begin. At this point, everyone who had not been chosen to serve on the jury was thanked and excused, and that included me. Everyone left, except me.One of the curses of my life is that I was born with an almost insatiable curiosity and I’m essentially an information junky. Having never been involved in a real court case, I can only say that I was compelled to stay.Before we broke for lunch, the prosecution called their first witness. By that point, I had already determined that I had very little interest in the case at hand and compared to TV standards, the content and its presentation were very lackluster. But the process was fascinating.During one of the afternoon breaks, I asked the judge a question, and that was when I decided to write a column about my experience.In the morning, he had stated that 150 summons had been sent out. In checking with the front desk during a break, I had learned that 47 had either been excused through the standard process or the summons had been returned as undelivered mail. That left 103 prospective jurors available for the day yet only 30 showed up. Seventy-three people had simply blown it off. No call. No excuse. No dismissal. No nothing. Just plain old “screw you” to the jury system.I was dismayed. So my question to the judge was what do you do about it? And the answer was almost as unbelievable as the fact because the answer was “nothing.” Apparently, over the years almost every possible enforcement tactic has been employed. A summons to show cause. A citation. Community service. All put such a burden both on the staff and the budget that the decision was made to do nothing.I debated even writing those words for fear of spreading such information. But I was stunned. After much discussion the judge said he only hopes that conscience and karma would ultimately take care of the problem During the next break, an investigator who had been in the room continued the conversation with me in the hall. He asked why I had showed up. I asked him if 14 years of Midwestern Catholic schools counted. It never entered my mind to not show up. If nothing else, I’d was afraid that Sister Verdiana would find out and call my mother.As you can see, I’m out of space but I will add to this next week.PS: Wasn’t the parade great! I actually got to watch it this year now that I’m Grindless.Do your part: call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail email@example.com. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Past columns, vaildaily.com-columnists or search:ferry. Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily.